The 5 best books on listening

Listening isn’t just an instinctive reaction to sound, it is a conscious effort that requires concentration, empathy and attentiveness.

It is so much more than hearing the words that someone is saying, and to truly listen is to understand the underlying thoughts, emotions and expectations of the people that we are speaking with. 

By mastering the art of listening, we can begin to engage and communicate with people on a level that is unparalleled in depth and complexity. 

If this is something that resonates with you, then reading the following books is a brilliant place to begin.

The best books on listening

1. You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

The premise of this book is simple; we are living in an age that is defined by instant communications and digital networking, and yet we have never been more isolated from one another.

A seasoned writer for the New York Times, Kate Murphy provides fascinating insights and pertinent observations with a narrative that is as humorous as it is critical.

Although it is interspersed with guidance and advice, it seems that the primary purpose of this book is to highlight the value and meaning that listening can bring to our lives. 

Research from psychology, neuroscience and sociology is seamlessly woven into the writer’s reflections.

It is thought-provoking and unapologetically truthful, and upon finishing the book readers will certainly be encouraged to think about the society they live in and whether it has changed for the better or the worse. 

If there is one criticism of this book, then it would be that its scathing criticisms of contemporary society may come across as one-sided, without any appreciation of the way that modern developments can potentially foster meaningful conversations and genuine relationships.

Pros

  • Explains why listening is such a valuable commodity.
  • Interspersed with anecdotes and research.
  • Humorous, engaging and insightful narrative.

Cons

  • Offers a pessimistic and one-sided interpretation of modern society.
  • Repetitive at times.

2. Listening Well by William R. Miller

Listening Well by William R. Miller

What really distinguishes this book by William R. Miller is the detailed step-by-step guidance that the writer has provided.

A distinguished psychologist, Miller’s excellent understanding of the subject matter is demonstrated through his eloquent and simple explanations.

There is an abundance of practical advice that can be immediately implemented within everyday interactions.

What’s more, there are ‘sample’ conversations that perfectly illustrate the writer’s points in a way that is easy to follow and practice. 

Many of the core insights within the book stem from the writer’s background in psychology, and this is evident in his expert analysis of listening and how we can learn to listen properly.

Since the writing is so concise and compact, the book is quite short in length.

This means that it can be repeatedly reread, or quickly summarised if the reader wants to remind themselves of the central points or refer to a particular exercise.

It is an amazing resource for people who are interesting in honing their listening abilities. 

However, the writer’s background in psychology does mean that his writing feels clinical at times, as if he is writing for a therapeutic context rather than for actual conversations. 

Pros

  • Short, concise and compact writing.
  • Practical guidance and simple exercises that are easy to follow.
  • Informed by the writer’s background in psychology.

Cons

  • The techniques and methods may be more suited to therapeutic contexts.
  • Might not be applicable to real-life interactions.

3. The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships by Michael P. Nichols

The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships by Michael P. Nichols

As indicated by the title, this book is focused on reviving ‘The Lost Art of Listening’.

The writer’s advice and guidance is presented as a series of scenarios and problems, supported by anecdotal experiences and various solutions.

For example, he distinguishes between listening to a loved one and listening to a colleague within a professional environment.

This categorization further illustrates the writer’s argument that listening is a nuanced art that requires a thoughtful and intelligent approach. 

Notably, the writer reinterprets listening as an activity that requires commitment and dedication, rather than merely being the process of passively hearing words.

Throughout, the narrative tone remains witty and conversational, ensuring that the information is accessible and easy to understand. 

It is worth pointing out that this book’s structure is somewhat confusing, in that the various anecdotes and solutions are scattered throughout the thirteen chapters.

The writing, therefore, can come across as long-winded and generalized.

Pros

  • Filled with relatable anecdotes and familiar experiences.
  • The writing is engaging, witty and inviting.
  • Reinterprets listening as active rather than passive.

Cons

  • Generalized and long-winded writing that could be significantly condensed.
  • Confusing and ambiguous structure.

4. Active Listening Techniques: 30 Practical Tools to Hone Your Communication Skills Nixaly Leonardo

Active Listening Techniques: 30 Practical Tools to Hone Your Communication Skills Nixaly Leonardo

This book begins with an overview of active listening and why it is such an essential skill, and then proceeds to describe the techniques and practices which the reader can implement in order to enhance their abilities.

It is a pragmatic and straightforward introduction to the basics of listening, with some examples being how to overcome obstacles to listening, communicating with other people effectively as well as responding to difficult situations. 

It is approachable and easy to read, and each section is prefaced with an example that illustrates how to practically implement the provided advice. 

Compared to the other books that have been reviewed on this subject, this particular book is not focused on listening as much as it is about communication in general.

Therefore, readers who are expecting an in-depth and detailed account of listening might be disappointed. 

Pros

  • Simple and straightforward tips.
  • The writing is approachable and easy to read.
  • Practical examples are provided with each tip.

Cons

  • An overview of communication skills, rather than listening.
  • May not be for readers who want a detailed exploration of the subject.

5. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binkow and Susan F. Cornelison (Illustrator)

Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binkow and Susan F. Cornelison (Illustrator)

Written for children, this storybook is an excellent introductory reference on the significance of listening.

Picture books are a brilliant way to engage children, and the author and illustrator of this book transform this medium into a memorable learning opportunity.

The endearing character, a young rabbit, is brought to life with whimsical and charming illustrations. 

Throughout this book, the writer emphasizes the power of listening and how it can transform our conversations, relationships and experiences.

The events unfold in the young rabbit’s home as well as at school, which are environments that children are familiar with and therefore demonstrate to them how they can implement listening within their own lives as well. 

As with any children’s book, it does provide a somewhat simplified overview of a complex topic, so some further context from parents and educators may be required.

What’s more, it may not be representative of children with learning difficulties or more complex struggles, especially when their challenges with listening cannot be resolved as easily as they can be in the book.

Pros

  • Endearing and charming story.
  • Beautiful illustrations that will engage children.
  • The character’s experiences will resonate with many children.

Cons

  • Requires further context.
  • May not represent children with learning difficulties or more complex struggles.

Conclusion

Meaningfully and authentically interacting with those around us is an essential part of the human experience, and the impact that listening can have when it comes to enriching these interactions is often overlooked. 

Each of the books that have been reviewed here has some incredible insights to provide.

Not only do they explore the intrinsic value of listening, but ways in which we might actually implement active and engaged listening within our lives.

The potential possibilities are not to be underestimated, because by listening we can develop meaningful relationships, attain personal growth and transform our experiences.